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France for French Food Dummies


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I am going to France from June 15 through the 22nd; one week to try and take in some of the food and feeling of Paris and the provinces.  Clearly, I am only going to be able to attempt only the slightest glance at the country and the cuisine as a whole, but I'm hoping to put together an itinerary that will serve as a decent primer.

Let's face it:  I am dumb when it comes to French food.  I've been eating around America for a while now, and I recognize that there is a heavy French influence in a lot of the food I eat.  The meals I have enjoyed the most over the past few weeks have both been in places that are probably categorized as French restaurants:  Masa's in San Francisco and Village in New York.  But although I often enjoy food that would be characterized as French, I don't feel like I have much of a grip on what the French food experience is all about.  So, I'm hoping to learn.

Here's what I have figured out so far.  I arrive into Paris on the morning of the 15th.  At 3:20 this morning, I sleepily punched redial several times and managed to grab a reservation at L'Astrance for the evening of the 15th.  I'm hoping to only spend the one day in Paris, largely because it's so easy to get to, and I assume I can go back whenever I want.  For several years now, it's been tough for me to get more than a handful of days off from work at a time, so adventures out of cities with airports are often logistically difficult.  Now that I've got a week, I want to take advantage of that freedom.

So, here are my questions:

1) Do I need to eat at a three star restaurant in Paris?  The only real option is lunch at L'Ambroisie if I'm going to get out of Paris by the 16th.  If I stay an extra day, I could try Pierre Gagnaire.  If I *do* need to eat at a three star restaurant in Paris, is it worth waiting a day for (what seems to be) the more favorably received Pierre Gagnaire?

2) Based mostly on what I've read on this board, I'm currently contemplating one of two "clusters" of restaurants in the provinces:

2a) The Michel route:  Michel Bras, Les Pres d'Eugenie, and Les Loges de l'Aubergade.

2b) L'Auberge de l'Eridan, Troisgros, and Pic.  Possibly Auberge et Clos des Cimes as well, but that seems like a lot in not very much time.

Do either of these look particularly well-chosen for an "intro to fine French food"?  Am I missing some other region where I could create a better cluster of restaurants?  Will I be able to get reservations at these places with only about 30 days notice?

Any insight you can provide would be appreciated.

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Jordan, good work getting into L'Astrance. I'll miss you there by ten days. Write it up before I go!!. What about lunch at a three-star other than L'Ambroisie or is everything booked?; i.e.L'Arpege, Gagnaire, Grand Vefour, Guy Savoy, which seem to be the most desireable?

Concerning the rest, I would opt for the three Michels, as you cleverly put in; but only by a whisker. It's pretty much six in one hand, a half dozen in the other. Bras is a must, I believe, more so than any restaurant in France. Guerard had slipped in my eyes when I last went about five years ago. But the whole situation is unforgettable. Here I would take a dinner in the "Restaurant Gourmand" and a lunch in the cheaper, funkier "La Ferme des Grieves" which we ended up enjoying as much or more as the formal restaurant. Trama is a chef I know only from a visit years ago, but other posters like him a lot based on recent visits. But how do you plan to get around because it's far to Eugenie-les-Bains? A variation, now that I think about it, could be Bras, Auberge des Cimes, and Veyrat. It's a route I have taken a few times with fond memories. The Lake of Annecy is about the most idyllic spot in France. I would stay in Talloires, not at Veyrat. Pere Bise is expensive, Le Cottage next door (but set back from the lake) is comfortable. L'Abbaye next door is also comfortable and right on the lake.  Both are noticeably less-expensive than Pere Bise.

I'm sure you'll get lots of advice from the usual suspects, some of conflicting/contradictory.

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Jordan, good work getting into L'Astrance. I'll miss you there by ten days. Write it up before I go!!. What about lunch at a three-star other than L'Ambroisie or is everything booked?; i.e.L'Arpege, Gagnaire, Grand Vefour, Guy Savoy, which seem to be the most desireable?

Robert, thanks for the advice.  Unfortunately, according to Cabrales in another thread (and verified by a cursory look at viamichelin.com), the other three stars in Paris are all closed for Saturday lunch, so L'Ambroisie is the only option.  Gagnaire is open the following night, but I am inclined to think that I'd rather be in the provinces on Sunday than waiting to have dinner at Gagnaire, unless it is so much better than L'Ambroisie and the consensus is that a three star in Paris is essential to my culinary education.

Regarding your variant itinerary, I think we're getting around by car (new question:  is that dumb?  lots of people on the board seem to suggest they mostly get around by train) and it seems like a greater distance than the others.  Do you think it is manageable in six days?

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I think Robert idea is very good.  For me Bras and Veyrat are MUST.  Both offer a very different cuisine and a very different setting.  And yes, the lake d'Annecy is superb!

Trama is very good but I wouldn't compare it to Bras or Veyrat.

Patrice Demers

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Jordan, I believe that generally speaking sacrificing a three-star meal in the country to a three-star meal in Paris is something to avoid. To my way, there is nothing better than having a great meal in bucholic settings. You have no choice but to rent a car as there is no train service to the places you want to go. I looked on the viamichelin.com web site and saw that doing the three Michels entails quite a bit of driving, although the trip is doable with a day to spare, meaning you could take two days to get from Guerard back to Paris (or vice-versa). Something tells me now to do the alternate I proposed or your Bras-Veyrat trip. You could use Lyon as a place to spend your extra day or two, or include Pic. Maybe those of us who have already covered the territory can reach a nice consensus.

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Stranger yet than hearing me say this, is the need I feel to remind you that there is more to France than the food and more to the food than the three star restaurants. I've eaten in four of the nine three star restaurants in Paris, but only in two of them since they've had three stars. I've been going to France for over 40 years, but there have been droughts of a dozen of more years and times when trips were spaced apart by years. Lately I go more frequently.

I don't have a real fix on your dining experience, financial circumstances, or age, all of which will contribute to shaping your ideal trip, but I think we can discuss abstracts enough for you to decide what to do. There are many ways to enjoy a week or so in France. I think I've given my opinion on the need to eat a three star meal in Paris. I agree with Robert Brown that French food is perhaps best enjoyed in the provinces for several reasons--the provinces offer food as least as good as you will find in Paris and maybe much better, the mood is far more relaxed and the diners more focused on the food, it's usually a better buy and the ingredients are better unless your idea of great food is caviar.

The first suggestion I would make is to consider not driving in or out of Paris unless you change your itinerary. Consider taking a TGV to Lyon or Bordeaux or Toulouse or some place like that and flying back to the US from near your last meal in the provinces. I don't know if you have tickets yet or with which airline you're flying, but I know Air France will charge next to nothing for you to add a continuing flight at either end of a flight to or from Paris. It's only for connecting flights and thus of no use when you stay in Paris, but you can fly USA > CDG and Lyon > CDG > USA for almost the same price as USA to CDG round trip. You should have a car for the rest of the trip.

I'd request a diesel for the considerable fuel savings. I don't think any of the rental companies will guaranty a diesel, but it's worth requesting. I haven't found any noticeable loss of pick up in a diesel and my understanding is that they're less polluting overall precisely because they burn less fuel. Diesel fuel is sold in every service station and it's considerably less expensive than gasoline.

Robert mentioned alternate places to stay while eating at Veyrat. Verat's rooms at some 400 to 600 euros are pricey. Not exactly a budget place either but less than half that price are the rooms at the Imperial Palace in Annecy, a large resort hotel facing the lake with excellent views from the lakeside rooms. The best rooms may be the ones that open onto the terrace. It's just a few kilometers from Veyrat.

I've eaten at all the restaurants you mention except for Pic, but not necessarily recently enough to offer a strong opinion on all. My guess is that my best meal has been at Veyrat. It's not the same thing as saying he is the best chef or that his is the best restaurant. It happened to be a meal that was not surrounded by other fine meals and I had a great appetite that day. Consequently, I ordered a large menu and got to taste a lot of different foods. When we dine in starred restaurants for several days in a row, these days, I find I have to be careful not to suffer a crise de foie and will not order the gastronomic menu or the richest dishes day in and day out. Nevertheless, I think Veyrat is one that I most recommend. The other would be Bras who I found less showy and more subtle. Regis Marcon would easily fit in with the rest of your stops if you wanted to concetrate your trip, but I can't say I'd trade Guerard for Marcon. Tough choices and a lot of eating and perhaps driving for a week. Then again I hate highway driving and try not to be behind the wheel of a car for more then 2 or 3 hours a day and then usually on back country roads. Recently it took us alost a week to get from Lyon to Bras and back, but we had some great food along the way as well, albeit in lesser places, and did a lot of relaxing.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Bux,

I for one still await a full report on your experience at Bras; from your comments above, you sound a bit disappointed, or at least less enthusiastic than I expected.  What happened?  Was going so close to the opening a bad idea in retrospect?

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Some early staff disorganization was unfortunate as were a few personal differences with very minor things, but I found I was distracted a bit at dinner. On the whole, my mood changed as soon as the food was in front of me. It's easy fro the distractions to snowball and a credit to the food that it could reset my focus. It's very fine food. "Fine" with a capital "F" if you will allow my continued references to the Beaux Arts.

:wink:

I tried to be clear that much of the difference in my reaction to Veyrat and Bras was a result of mood and appetite on the days in question. Expectations also play a part in terms of mood. From what I read about Veyrat, I rather expected him to be a bit of a clown and that I'd find his food pretentious, but I found just the opposite. At Bras, I expected just about what I found. No surprise = less excitement. For this reason it's always more fun to discover a little hole in the wall. I have great empathy for the "cheap eats" reviewers who are being discussed in other threads in the NY board and a little envy. I can understand why they want to be the first to discover a place or a food. What do add about a place that's been well covered by professionals and amateurs alike?

I'm also in the very odd position of using eGullet.com as an excuse. I spend too much time getting involved in threads here to start new ones or get to whatever else has to be done. I can't get to the forest because the trees are in the way?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I'm surprised that Bux hasn't suggested Le Vieux Pont at Belcastel, so I will. France has much more to offer than just cuisine and at Belcastel you have a beautifully preserved and restored village in an idyllic river valley. By staying and dining at Le Vieux Pont you will be able to experience a family run atmosphere with cooking that is true to the area's (Aveyron) produce and yet bang up to date. It is also nearer two Michelin stars than the one that they've held for some time.

You'll also find Belcastle an easy drive to/from Michel Bras and a good location to strike out for Puymerol (Trauma) if you're going to take that in. If interesting towns are for you then Albi is a fine first choice for the region.

As you say that you have a limited experience of French cuisine then on a broader note I would urge you to include establishments that do traditional dishes on your itinerary. The best example I can think of is Le Cep in Fleurie (Beaujolais). Bras/Astrance/Trauma/Veyrat et al will all offer innovative "modern" cooking, but you need to try some old masters as well.

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Le Vieux Pont is a gem in many ways. I suppose I didn't mention it for several reasons. The current itinerary is restricted to multistarred Relais et Chateaux inns, and I'm afraid Le Vieux Pont would just seem a little less luxurious rather than a real alternative. It's also too close to Bras and if there's a spare day in the trip, one would hope it was at a better spot to break the drive.

Le Vieux Pont certainly has rooms that are quite comfortable and charming, but the comforts are simpler  (and more to my style and taste) than those at most Relais Chateaux. The dining room service and ambience is not nearly as spiffy as as that found at three star restaurants, or even the more expensive two stars, but the cooking at it's best holds it's own against two star kitchens. This is a case where a talented chef knows the limits of the region and caters to them. The 23 euro menu is not spectacular but it also would not insult the taste of any fine bec. The 62 euro menu is easily two star food in my mind. I would just describe the service as more relaxed. Nevertheless, Michel Bras' 81 euro menu of the same number of courses is just as good a buy, if not better in it's own way, although I don't think there's a two star difference in terms of food alone. I think it's the scale of operation that keeps le Vieux Pont at one star. Having finaly eaten at Bras, I found it interesting that the food at le Vieux Pont, much less resembles Bras' food today than it did many years ago. I've read that Nicole Fagegaltier was strongly influenced by Bras. Today she seems to be developing a more complex style influenced by sources perhaps in Paris and maybe even moreso, Catalunya. One more point in comparing the two, and I hope neither are offended by my comparison, is that the four courses, cheese and dessert (at Vieux Pont it's a panoply of desserts) is the largest menu offered by Nicole Fagegaltier, while it's the smaller of the two menus offered at Michel Bras. You can enjoy a good meal at both, but it's a waste to seek out Bras unless you're absolutely serious about eating. This is not to say that a serious gastronome could not think of both as destination. Once more, "gastronome" comes to my rescue. "Gourmet" is too abused to have much meaning and "foodie" does not describe the people I see at Bras or le Vieux Pont.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Thanks, all, for the input so far.  I'm certainly in agreement that I don't want to limit this trip to three star restaurants--both in terms of exploring the food and exploring the country, such an approach would be awfully limiting.  My goal is to pick out a few excellent places to eat, and build the rest of a trip around them.  I've taken a similar approach on several recent trips, and found the results to be quite satisfactory.

As a general rule, I'm more worried about quality of food than luxury of appointments (either in the restaurant or the hotel), so please don't allow the relatively high end places I named to make you think I won't be satisfied staying at a charming country inn.  One of my favorite places on a recent trip to South Africa was Roggeland, which was also (by far) the least luxurious accomodation of the vacation.

It looks like there's a strong consensus here for the inclusion of Veyrat.  As a result, I think I'll follow Bux's advice of taking the TGV to Bordeaux or Tolouse, and then driving east, eventually flying back from Lyon or possibly Geneva.

As I expected, availability of reservations is going to play a role in dictating some of the itinerary.  Rooms at Bras are gone for the entire week I'll be in France; I haven't called to see if there's still a chance at reservations for food yet, but I wonder about the practicality (of dinner at least) if there are no rooms available, given that everyone seems to indicate that it is a fairly remote location.  Michelin lists several other places to stay, and I'm assuming that Laguiole is not all that big.

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Laguiole is not that big. Bras is out of town, about 6 kilometers away up the moutain, but it's a good wide well paved road. I dislike not being able to stay where I dine and especially where I wine, but it's an easy drive back to town. Another choice is lunch and a good walk around the property and then a drive to wherever you're sleeping. Lunch doesn't have the same luxury as dinner, perhaps, and it does eat up the afternoon--especially a grand lunch. I'm also not sure if Bras serves the big menu at lunch, but I'd guess he does as he can't accommodate all the people who want to eat at dinner time.

How many meals a day do you eat? That's not a trick question. We tend to stay with just a salad for lunch if we intend having a really grand dinner. At other times we might have two real meals, but one is at a very small bistro and often limited to the least filling dishes. Le Vieux Pont in Belcastel is not far away. Les luxurious and less expensive than Bras, but charming and comfortable. I coulnd't do justice to lunch at Bras and dinner at Belcastel on the same day. You may be younger and up to it. At each place, there should be the temptation to go for the bigger menus.

:confused:

Le Vieux Pont is obviously an old personal favorite of Graham's and mine. Le Domaine de Barres is a new one, although after only one meal, I am hesitant to be too confident about the food. It's also not far from Regis Marcon, which is clearly a step up the scale. I trust Mercadier, the young chef at the Domaine de Barres will not be insulted to hear me say that. I think he's off to a great start. Nevertheless it's a nice place to stay and as it's not yet listed in the Michelin, the sort of place that might not be booked full. Langogne has some nice shops for browsing food. Great charcuteries and stuff. Just looking in the windows of fine traditional country food shops in France is a thrill for me, even if I have to limit purchases to canned and jarred goods. Artisanal jams and creme de marrons figured heavily in my return flight baggage on the last trip. Sadly few of them end up not being given away to friends and family.

I wonder if I'm being helpful or distracting. My wife complains that as she's trying to finalize our itinerary, I'm always suggesting alternates. It's true that no matter how little terrirtory we cover, I always feel I'm bypassing too many restaurants that deserve my attention, even if they have no stars. Sometimes it's a relief whan I'm told I can't get a reservation as it narrows down my choices.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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I thought I would add to the confusion and give another idea. One place that I feel is a must is Troigros in Roanne. As Cabrales has noted elsewhere, this is a perfect meal and a wonderful place to stay.

You could take the TGV from Paris to Lyon and then take a quick train ride to Roanne. As Troisgros is right across from the train station, you can pick up your rental car at the station and you are 3 minutes from Troisgros. Next you could drive from Roanne to St Bonnet, a 1 hour 43 minute drive according to Michelin. Auberge et Clos des Cimes in St Bonnet is another wonderful place to stay and we found the food exceptional. From St Bonnet you could go to Lyon, another short drive of 1 hour and 26 minutes. In Lyon, Leon de Lyon is a wonderful restaurant and Michelin has just awarded a second star to L'Auberge de I'll and a first star to Christian Tetdoie, both in Lyon. From Lyon, you could drive to Annecy, a 1 hour and 37 minute drive. If you wanted you could then go to Geneva, even spend the night if you wish and catch a plane back to Paris or maybe even the States.

Using the same itinerary, it might be that your trip became - Lyon - Roanne - St Bonnet - Annecy or to completely add another variable, you could skip St Bonnet and from Roanne go to Burgundy country and stay in Chagny at Lameloise. It is a 3 star - we have only eaten there once, but enjoyed it thoroughly.

If this doesn't make you totally confused, I can't think what will.

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No shortage of good restaurants in Lyon and I really like Lyon. I've been there as often as I've been to Paris in the past few years, but Lyon is not Paris and I'd not stay one day in Paris and two in Lyon on my first trip to France. On the other hand you can really get to know Lyon in two days, which is more than I can say for Paris. Should you stop in Lyon, I'd make it before or after the car rental. You not only don't need a car in Lyon but it would be a nuisance. The Lyon airport (St. Exupéry) is quite far from the city and I'd use the TGV (which I believe Air France can sell as a "flight" leg). You can go from downtown Lyon directly to CDG where there is a TGV station. While the flight is less time, with check in times and the long ride in from the airport, you can do better to or from downtown Lyon by TGV.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I find this thread to be illustrative of the eGullet forum on France. Jordyn, who, I believe, will make her first trip to the provinces of France, has already sorted out her destinations on the basis of 3-star restaurants. The respondents pick up on that and rehash their preferences of Veyrat over Bras, or vice versa, and so on. A Ferris-wheel that never changes.

Dear eGullet members, I find it almost decadent to advise a first-time visitor (or a second, or a third) to discover the French countryside that way. Buxbaum touched upon the fact that France is more than just starred restaurants in two of his posts, but no one has picked up on that.

France is an enormously varied country, blessed with mountains, plains, lush green valleys and harsh Atlantic coast. With that, a great tradition in regional food ingredients and preparation that can be enjoyed from things bought at the market to a superb dining experience in a local place.  If you only hop from 2  to 3 star and back, you'll miss out on that variety. Above all, your senses will be dulled to a point where there is no longer room for a Wow! The only thing left then is to jump on the eGullet Ferris-wheel and put in another half-penny  to the steadily turning wisdom.

Frieda

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I find this thread to be illustrative of the eGullet forum on France. ... The respondents pick up on that and rehash their preferences ... A Ferris-wheel that never changes.

I suspect that's true of most online message boards as well as cocktail parties, but it's a good point. I think eGullet.com has done quite well in raising the standards for online discussions, but we're always in danger of repeating ourselves and we should thank you for pointing it out, although I suspect many of us will not heed the message quickly or easily. It appears to be inherent in the medium

Dear eGullet members, I find it almost decadent to advise a first-time visitor (or a second, or a third) to discover the French countryside that way. Buxbaum touched upon the fact that France is more than just starred restaurants in two of his posts, but no one has picked up on that.

With a stress on the "almost," I'm inclined to agree or I wouldn't have made comment in the first place. Nevertheless, everyone has to approach France in his own way. It's also the reason I mentioned age and other factors. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to discover France and French food as a student with little knowledge of food. Sometimes I feel we robbed our daughter of that discovery. At 11 years of age, her first meal in France was with us at a restaurant with a GaultMillau rating of 14 and all she could say was that her meal was awful and not as good as she was used to eating on a weekday nght at home. A one star restaurant the next night gave her some pause and dinner at Troisgros convinced her the trip was worth making. She returned to spend time as a college student and discover a new goat cheese every day from her favorite shop and to slowly find the cafes and bistros with the best cheap food.

Jordyn's stated that the goal is "to pick out a few excellent places to eat, and build the rest of a trip around them." and went on to say " I've taken a similar approach on several recent trips, and found the results to be quite satisfactory." My responsibility is to make a counter suggestion to the extent that I think it needs to be considered, but to consider myself that members know themselves best. To that end I suggest stopping at charcuteries, epiceries, laiteries and patisseries for a picnic lunch, snack food or just to window shop. The little places alongside the road or on back streets of villages may have a siren's call. If heard, they may give pause about where to eat on the next trip or they may scare one away from unstarred restaurants. France is no longer the country where you can't get a bad meal as it was when I first returned with my wife after my student trip.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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The purpose of debating whether Jordyn should go to Bras or Veyrat is based on the fact that there is only one week to do this trip and logistically doing both is almost impossible. Building a trip around "must" places does not preclude the little out of the way finds.

When I plan our trips to France, I make a list of my "have-to-try" restaurants. They tend to be a Michelin 3* for I take Michelin at their word that this is "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey." Once I have established that list, the itinerary evolves from there with 2 and 3 forks and some one stars. It should be noted what one star means, particularly in the Provinces - "A very good restaurant in its category." This often means that the restaurant chosen is tied to its locale where you will find some of the best examples of regional cooking.

If you are in France for an extended stay, you have the luxury of staying in one region for a long time and becoming familar with the local hang-outs. But if you are there for 7 days, at most 14 meals, I, for one, would rather not eat bad food. Unfortunately, Bux is correct that there are some very bad restaurants in France serving some horrible food.

There are some wonderful restaurants that are on the way to or near the 2 and 3 stars. Clos des Sens in Annecy, Auberge du Point de Lanu in Lanu, La Cote Rotie in Guigal, Ca L'Isidre in Barcelona and on and on. Also there are some unbelievable disasters - Chateau de Codignant (Chateau de Crap) and Mas de Torrent (Mas de Torment) to name a few.

I think the point here is that e-gulleters are not being elitist, but supplying the information requested.

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I agree with lizziee's suggestion that Troisgros be included. I would like to explore the question of whether doing both Veyrat and Bras is impossible in one week.

Recently, I followed the following itinerary. I had dinner in Paris, then the next day took an early TGV to Montpellier. Assuming appetite and other factors were not constraints, a natural stop would be to have lunch at three-starred Jardin des Sens in Montpellier. With an earlier TGV, one can arrive in Montpellier in more than sufficient time to have lunch at Jardin, which is not a restaurant I subjectively like.  (During my recent visit, I did not have lunch at Jardin because (1) I had visited twice previously, and (2) I was feeling full.)  Note the cost of taking a TGV versus driving depends on, among other things, the number of people involved in the trip.

From Montpellier's train station, I rented a car and drove for about 3.5 hours to Laguiole. Michelin provides an estimated time of less than 3 hours. I then had several meals at Bras, sleeping there. The rates are reasonable (beginning in the high 100 euros and with larger rooms with better views being in the high 200 euro range).  However, there is also ample lodging in Laguiole itself -- Relais de Laguiole starts at below Euro 60, I believe. The places to stay can be found in Michelin. Consider stopping by the Forges de Lagiole shop which is on the way along the road from Lagiole to M Bras. It is the best-known producer of Laguiole knives, including a beautiful P Starck-designed cutting knife (unfortunately, without corkscrew) and P Starck cheese knife. Lagiole also has a well-known charcuterie shop called Conquet or Conquest, which was named by G-M for two prior years the best in the country. I was not particularly impressed by this establishment.  Early on the morning of the day of departure, I drove back to Montpellier.

From Montpellier, you could return the car and then take a TGV to Lyons (I believe this can be done either directly; at most with a switch in nearby Nimes -- I can check if you are pursuing this itinerary). This will take less than 2 hours, if memory serves me correctly. You can be in Lyons with ample time to be at any of the three-stars in surrounding areas. Please consider dinner at Troisgros and its bistro Le Centrale. They are in Roanne, a direct short train-ride from Lyons (or a short drive, if you are renting a car before Troisgros instead of afterwards).  

From Lyons, you can then drive the next day to Veyrat's restaurant/hotel very readily.  The above itinerary will take you 4 days in total outside of Paris (even assuming 1.5 days and several meals at Bras; if only 1 dinner is taken at Bras, this itinerary could be shortened to 3 days; not necessarily taking into account time required to exit Veyrat's, although time to arrive at Veyrat's and dine there is included), although it is relatively draining and assumes the availability of reservations at relevant times.  

If you are exiting Veyrat's via Geneva (which will cause an open-jaw if your initial flight was to Paris), note that within 1 hours' drive of Geneva (and easily accessible by train followed by a cursory taxi ride) is Rochat's three-starred restaurant at Crissier. This was formerly operated by Girardet. Note that I did not find Rochat's cuisine inspired.

If it were up to me, Troisgros (excellent) and Bras (which was not compelling to me) would be the places to cover.  :wink:

To the extent you decide to visit Guerard's Pres d'Eugenies, note that Michel Trama's at Puymirol (or Pymirol, sic) is along the way from Laguiole to Eugenie-Les-Bains.

On the points made regarding elitism in certain posts, my take is that different members post about restaurants that they visit or restaurants that interest them. It would be wonderful if members who have experience with diverse restaurants could provide input on them. :wink:

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jordyn -- On Paris three-stars open for Saturday lunch, note my prior indication that L'Ambroisie was the only choice predated the 2002 announcements. Please check that Ledoyen and Guy Savoy are not open for lunch on Saturday, if you are interested in those restaurants.  :wink:

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Why not let people tackle France in whatever way they want?  If people really want to visit multiple 3-star places, and their livers can handle it, so much the better for them.

I personally prefer to stay in one area for at least two weeks, and to have a kitchen available.  That makes it much easier to feed the children, who have yet to acquire the French habit of sitting quietly through a long meal.  We then manage a mix of small places, sometimes recommended by the locals, sometimes found by wandering around; and places recommended by Michelin, Gault Millau, Chowhound and eGullet.  These tend to be more elaborate.  

For a truly astonishing example of 3-star mania, see Feeding Frenzy: A Race Across Europe in Search of the Perfect Meal, by Stuart Stevens.  The author and his friend set out to eat at every 3-star restaurant in Europe, one per day.  They succeed.  It's out of print in the US but for some reason has been re-issued in the UK.

Before discovering this board I wrote a short review of this book in Chowhound, click here.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Let me interject a note of travel advice, specifically on car rentals. Generally speaking, you will get the best rental rates if you are a North American resident with US driver's license and passport, by making your reservation on this side of the Atlantic. I've heard of people who have used the web to make the reservation with the US office even though they were in Europe at the time. I don't know if that works. I know my wife has had clients who have called from Europe to have her make the reservation here. Ten minutes later they pick up their car in Europe. The cost of the call is a drop in the bucket compared to the savings.

The cost of a single day's rental is quite excessive and the best rates require a mimimum of three days. An intinerary that combines mulitple cars and trains may often be your best bet, but it is likely to be an uneconomical solution. There are so many great restaurants in France, and some of the two stars are as good as other three stars in many people's opinions that it's hard to cover them all in one trip even with a liver to spare. I'm not sure there's any single restaurant that's universally considered a must. Ducasse, Bras, Veyrat--there's always someone who prefers one to the other and someone who won't place all of those in his top five. Not every dish offered by a three star restaurant is worthy of the chef's reknown either. Go for the specialties, but be prepared for a relative disappointment based on subjective taste if nothing else. That's a good reason to have an intellectual appreciation for food as well as a sensual one.

Not about cars, but to continue on the objective versus the subjective appreciation of food, one of the things I love about fastronomic menus is that they invariable offer a dish or two I would never order. This is both the opportunity to learn something and sometimes develop a new appreciation. At worst, it will be an interesting experience and part of a larger meal.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Why not let people tackle France in whatever way they want?  If people really want to visit multiple 3-star places, and their livers can handle it, so much the better for them.

I personally prefer to stay in one area for at least two weeks, and to have a kitchen available.  

... places recommended by Michelin, Gault Millau, Chowhound and eGullet.  These tend to be more elaborate.  

For a truly astonishing example of 3-star mania, see Feeding Frenzy: A Race Across Europe in Search of the Perfect Meal, by Stuart Stevens.  ...

Before discovering this board I wrote a short review of this book in Chowhound, click here.

JD, I think you're correct in noting that we should attempt to answer people's questions in the belief they know what they want and then offer our own subjective advice for reference or consideration. I'm probably on the ferris wheel with that thought, but I think it's worth repeating.

Michelin and GM offer a corporate list of restaurants with rankings, GM offers some interesting text (in French) as well, but eGullet does not recommend anything. What you get here is a lot of personal advice that may often be contradictory, but is nonetheless perhaps more interesting.

Thanks for the link to your review. I should imagine Chowhound does not claim the sole copyrights to your review and you should feel free to repost your own work here even if previously published on the web. I'm not sure if this book has been discussed previously here or not. I haven't read it, but those who have might want to discuss it in a separate thread.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I find this thread to be illustrative of the eGullet forum on France. Jordyn, who, I believe, will make her first trip to the provinces of France, has already sorted out her destinations on the basis of 3-star restaurants. The respondents pick up on that and rehash their preferences of Veyrat over Bras, or vice versa, and so on. A Ferris-wheel that never changes.

I don't think you can tar this thread and all it's contributors with this comment. Perhaps you can re-read my input to this thread. If you have problems with some respondents, including myself, then you need to be a bit more specific.

One problem we have here is there was initially little to go in terms of preferences, eating stamina, budget, other points of interest (cultural, geographic)  etc. on the itinerary. Generic requests can only really be met with personal experiences backed up with whatever observations that may help the reader make a decision if it's for them or not.

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Let me interject a note of travel advice, specifically on car rentals. Generally speaking, you will get the best rental rates if you are a North American resident with US driver's license and passport, by making your reservation on this side of the Atlantic.

This can also be true for flights.  I have booked very cheap London-Nice flights, a segment we use a lot, by going to sites like Travelocity or Expedia on a "virgin" (no cookies) computer.  Of course the site then assumes you are US-based.  Prices for direct flights on BA or Air France were quoted in US dollars.  If I recall correctly we found direct London-Nice returns for 3 adults and 3 children for under US$500 in all.

The site happily arranged for delivery of the tickets to our home in London for something like an extra $12.  Of course it then had a cookie and the next time I tried for seats, it quoted them in sterling and the prices were higher.  Zap the cookie and try again: now the prices were in dollars again, and the numbers were 10% smaller (i.e. what would have cost £100 = $145 was now $90).

This doesn't always work, because the US sites sometimes get  shorter seat allocations and the prices rise.  And, thanks to Easyjet and Go, the "no frills" prices are often less than even the cheapest available US-based fares.  

Same thing often works with car rentals.  The sites want to know your "country of origin" and the prices are calculated accordingly.  Again, there are exceptions: for a 21 day 7-seater van rental in August, I was quoted $1359 + 19.6% VAT + airport fee + taxes, this from Europe By Car, the specialist leasing and rental company in New York (http://www.europebycar.com).  This was a prepaid deal.  From Europcar, with my AA (Automobile Association, the British version of the AAA) discount, I was quoted £875 tax included, which compares favourably.    

Nonetheless it seems to me that this nationalistic price discrimination could be challenged in court, if you could find the right jurisdiction.  EU? World Court of the Internet?

(P.S. -- In posting this I normally would have feared accusations of "off topic" or "not about food", but since a moderator brought up this topic...!)

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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(P.S. -- In posting this I normally would have feared accusations of "off topic" or "not about food", but since a moderator brought up this topic...!)

The modertators here are an anarchistic lot. Perhaps there's a bit of a backlash and an attempt to keep things lively and friendly and encourage debate and inclusion. A separate thread on car rental hints might have been a good idea in retrospect. As for off topic on the board, the France board is found in the Restaurants, Dining and Travel (Europe) section of eGullet.com. We've focused on the restaurants and dining, but anything that enables you to get from meal to meal easier or cheaper, deserves inclusion.

:wink:

When it comes to dealing with the intricacies of auto rentals and leases abroad, I tend to suggest finding a good travel agent with experience in the field to represent your interests. It's one of the things they can still do at no cost to you. Obviously that's not an unbiased opinion and your milage may vary. Further disclosure would say that the pun was intended. If you go it on your own, AutoEurope and some of the other companies will bargain and can be expected to meet the lowest price you find elsewhere.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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